Providence teachers "speed date" for jobs

PROVIDENCE, RI – Nearly 400 Providence teachers are hoping to find new jobs this week at a series of three job fairs. School officials describe it like speed dating for teachers. WRNI Education Reporter Elisabeth Harrison followed elementary school teachers last night as they tried to make a match with a principal.

Inside the gym and the auditorium at Del Sesto Middle school, dozens of teachers lined up to meet with principals who have openings on their staffs. Margaret Madoian brought a tote bag stuffed with student work and lesson plans from her 30 years as an elementary school teacher.

"I've always had an updated resume," says Madoian. "They wanted two artifacts -- I tend to over do things so I had to go through albums and albums and students work, and it took me maybe about six weeks to compile everything on my own time."

Some 400 Providence teachers - most displaced by school closures - are vying for 240 positions. In the interest of time, district officials gave each principal a table, and the teachers had four hours to complete as many interviews as possible.

"We're just so on edge cause we need a job. We're terminated and this is our life. its just very scary."

That teacher asked that her name not be used out of concern that it could affect her ability to get hired, and many teachers echoed her fears. Sixth grade teacher Ed Jirmin waited over an hour for one interview -- He is losing his job in a bilingual program that will serve only Kindergarten and 1st grade in the fall.

"We're not appreciated as educators," says Jirmin. "I just feel as if what's going on is demeaning to my profession, it's pretty sad."

Demeaning teachers is not what school officials say they are trying to do.

Providence Public Schools spokeswoman Christina O'Reilly says teachers were encouraged to contact principals before the match event and set up separate interviews. The goal was to give both teachers and principals a chance to find a good fit.

We certainly recognize that teachers are not interchangeable. They are not widgets. They're people, and they're professionals and doing this sort of an open match hiring process gave a chance for each teacher to make their best case about their own professional credentials to a principal who's looking for someone to fill a position.

By Thursday morning, June 9th, teachers must rank their top choices then principals will do the same, and the district will try to match people accordingly. School officials see this as the fairest way to place displaced people into openings. Still, many Providence teachers have deep misgivings.

"You don't want depressed, scared, angry, anxious people in front of your children. That is not good for education."

Anna Kupperman, a high school teacher whose job is not at risk this year, says she is still upset by the way the district fired all of its teachers earlier this year. She says the letter notifying her that she would get her job back made it clear she can be fired again.

"Its just, its not how you treat employees if you want them to care about what they do an not feel demoralized," she says. "Did this make me want to go home over the weekend and look through 130 journals, or read the novel I was teaching the next week? It made me want to like throw something."

Providence school officials say the blanket firing was regrettable but necessary as they look to save $28 million. And they say teachers will have more chances to apply for openings, as they finalize staffing needs over the summer. Meanwhile, the teachers' union lawsuit alleging wrongful dismissals is still making its way through court.

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